By Mike Cohen

AP 24 April 2001

Cape Town -- President Thabo Mbeki on Tuesday questioned the need for people to take HIV tests, saying there was disagreement among scientists about what exactly was being tested.

Mbeki caused an international uproar more than a year ago when he courted the view of some scientists who question the link between HIV and AIDS and believe HIV testing should be stopped.

After his public image took a battering, Mbeki withdrew from the debate, and his government said its AIDS policy was based on the premise that HIV, or human immuno deficiency virus, did cause AIDS.

But in a rare live broadcast on the private television station e-TV, Mbeki reignited the debate Tuesday, saying he would not take a public HIV test as it would send a message that he supported a particular scientific viewpoint.

"I go and do a test - I am confirming a particular paradigm,'' he said.

Mbeki also rejected growing calls for the government to provide patients suffering from AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, with anti-retroviral drugs through the public health system, saying they were not yet proven to be safe.

"I think it would be criminal if our government did not deal with the toxicity of these drugs,'' he said. "Let's stop politicizing this question, let's deal with the science of it.''

AIDS activist say Mbeki's often controversial views on AIDS have sown confusion about how to deal with the epidemic in a nation where an estimated 11 percent of the population, or some 4.9 million of 45 million, is HIV positive, one of the world's highest infection rates.